Roberto Duran smiles after knocking down Davey Moore during their junior middleweight fight at Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y., on June 16, 1983. Duran won the WBA title with an eighth-round technical knockout.
Part two of “10 fights that cemented Roberto Duran’s legend,” compiled by RingTV.com’s resident historian Lee Groves, chronicles five of Hands of Stone’s greatest victories, spanning 15 years – from Duran’s pound-for-pound prime to his time as a middle-aged underdog title challenger.
5. March 16, 1974 – KO 11 Esteban DeJesus II, Gimnasio Nuevo Panama, Panama City, Panama
During his six-year career, Duran had achieved just about everything a fighter could want. First of all, he was a world champion and he was earning purses commensurate with that standing. Second, he enjoyed worldwide sporting fame and that status gained him entry to events that otherwise would have shut him out. Finally, he had that enviable blend that all sportsmen seek: The youth and energy to command his body to do his mind’s bidding and the experience to know exactly what he should tell his body to do.
Although he shared a version of the lightweight championship with power-punching Mexican Rodolfo Gonzalez, Duran was considered the premier 135-pounder in the world. Moreover, at age 22, some observers were already saying Duran had the potential to topple Benny Leonard as the greatest lightweight ever to walk the earth.
But for all the accolades and honors, Duran’s life still wasn’t complete. Despite notching three successful defenses since dethroning Buchanan and amassing a sterling 41-1 (35) record, the “1” in the loss column ate at him. On Dec. 17, 1972 an unknown upstart named Esteban DeJesus decisively out-pointed Duran in a non-title fight. Not only that, the slick boxing Puerto Rican dropped Duran for a six-count with a hook in round one. Duran tried to make up ground for the rest of the fight but DeJesus refused to let him.
Duran knew he wasn’t at his best coming into that fight. Two months earlier he had been involved in a car accident that resulted in an elbow injury and several facial lacerations. But Duran also was gripped by complacency; he simply didn’t believe DeJesus was good enough to beat him. The judges saw it differently, as DeJesus won 6-2-2, 6-3-1 and 5-4.
Since then Duran had gone 10-0 (8) while DeJesus had won eight straight with three knockouts. DeJesus’ victims included Ray Lampkin (twice), Johnny Gant and former champion Alfonzo “Peppermint” Frazier, meaning Duran had not lost to a one-hit wonder.
Duran entered the fight a 2-to-1 favorite but less than 90 seconds into the fight the Puerto Rican challenger caused lightning to strike twice as a blistering hook to the point of the chin dropped Duran for the second consecutive meeting. Duran’s partisans jumped out of their seats as they called for their hero to get up, but they need not have worried, for Duran arose and exchanged blows as if nothing had happened.
The third round was particularly torrid as the two lightweights swapped punches at an amazing pace. They whipped dozens of power shots at one another and the crowd did their best to yelp in time with each of Duran’s blockbusters. By the middle rounds Duran had cemented his dominance, not only because of his incredible pressure but also due to the scorching Panamanian heat. According to ABC’s Howard Cosell, the temperature was in the mid-90s and the humidity made the site feel like a “steam bath.”
A five-punch combination highlighted by a hook to the body and a right to the temple caused DeJesus to sink to the floor in the final minute of the seventh. Duran smartly moved inside and pounded DeJesus’ ribs in the eighth, during which an up-and-down combination nearly floored the challenger. Duran now was landing a prohibitively high percentage of his power punches and the effects were etched in DeJesus’ face, body and behavior. His fighter’s heart commanded him to soldier on and he did the best he could under the circumstances. But his body could muster only so much energy and resistance and eventually DeJesus reached his limit.
DeJesus tried to keep his distance early in the 11th but Duran closed the gap, then closed the show. A five-punch volley that included a hook to the body and a final right to the head decked DeJesus for the second time. Without the energy or the will to go on, DeJesus began to rise only after referee Isaac Herrera tolled the final 10.
Not only did Duran secure his vengeance, he evened the score in terms of knockdowns suffered at two apiece. As recounted earlier, Duran won the rubber match by 12th-round KO but their bitter feud really ended when the 37-year-old DeJesus, his body ravaged with AIDS, was near death. Hearing about DeJesus’ plight, Duran flew to DeJesus’ bedside in Puerto Rico and despite the fears of the time Duran hugged, kissed and embraced his rival without any regard to his own potential infection. His gesture won him the respect, admiration and love of Puerto Ricans, who previously had good reason to disparage Duran because of his frequent and ceaseless barbs. By showing his true self, Duran righted long-established wrongs.
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